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Paris: the most sustainable Olympics?

WHEN the Paris Olympics organizers sent surfing competitions to the Pacific waters of Tahiti, critics railed against the building of a new viewing tower on Teahupo'o reef because of fears it would hurt marine life.

But it wasn't just the world-class waves that lured the organizers to the French territory 16,000 kilometers away. Another reason was the ambitious target of halving their overall carbon footprint compared with the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games.

With Tahiti's surfing reef too far offshore for fans to see the action clearly from the beach, organizers calculated that most would watch on television instead of taking flights, a major source of carbon emissions.

Workers build the stands for the upcoming Olympic Games on the Champ-de-Mars just beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris on April 1, 2024. PHOTO BY THOMAS PADILLA VIA AP

After doing the math, Georgina Grenon, director of Environmental Excellence for the Paris Games, concluded, «There was less impact in Tahiti compared to other metropolitan areas.»

Tahiti's selection provides a window into organizers' approach to hitting their goal of reducing emissions, specifically to limit them to 1.58 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent for the July 26 to August 11 Games and Paralympics that follow. That's equal to that of about 1.3 million economy passengers flying one way from New York to Paris on Boeing 787 jets, according to myclimate, a climate and sustainability consultancy.

It's a lot less, however, than the footprint of previous Games.


Organizers say they're thinking about the Games' future, not just the planet's. Fewer cities are volunteering to spend billions on infrastructure that sometimes falls into disuse. Hosting less-wasteful Games, along with including youth-oriented events such as skateboarding, might just be the key.

Paris is under additional pressure to be a sustainable model: It hosted the 2015 UN climate talks that resulted in the Paris Agreement, the most significant international climate accord to date. Delegates agreed the world should limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above that of the 1850s, and ideally cap it at 1.5 C, a goal looking